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Living Earth Community

Sam Mickey
Mary Evelyn Tucker
John Grim


Ways of Knowing, Ways of Valuing Nature

John Grim et Mary Evelyn Tucker

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1The contemporary market-driven worldview relies upon and legitimates rational, analytical ways of knowing, often to the exclusion of other ways of knowing. Support for a consumerist ideology depends upon and simultaneously contributes to a worldview based on the instrumental rationality of the human. In this worldview, rational choice is seen as that realm of common sense in which both the world and human demands on the world are laid out as commensurate, equal realities that confront decision-makers. That is, in this rational scheme, the assumption for decision-making is that all choices are equally clear and measurable. According to that perspective, the challenge is to find a common metric for evaluating the quantitative differences among the relevant factors. Different values are integrated into this metric by assuming that all values are relative and that trade-offs are made between these values in order to arrive at a choice.

2The metrics used may vary, but in the current market-driven worldview, metrics such as price, utility, and efficiency dominate. This can result in highly diverse views of a forest, for example, as a certain amount of board-feet (a unit for measuring lumber-volume), or as a mechanistic complex of ecological systems that provide previously unmeasured services to the human. In environmental policy, ecosystem services and cost-benefit analysis have been used as metrics to determine how a plant or animal species contributes to human welfare in a quantifiable way. These modes of commensuration may provide invaluable bridges into the business community for bringing environmental issues to their attention for serious consideration. Moreover, ecosystem services analysis certainly manifests a form of the transformation of consciousness urgently needed at this time. However, it is also important to ask if such rational perspectives that transform reality into information — namely, manageable, quantifiable data — alter or eliminate other significant ways of knowing reality in relation to decision-making.

3One long-term effect is that the individual human decision-maker is distanced from nature because nature is reduced to measurable entities. From this perspective, humans become isolated in our perceived uniqueness as something separate from the biological web of life. In this context, humans do not seek identity and meaning in the numinous beauty of the world, or experience themselves as dependent on a complex of life-supporting interactions of air, water, and soil. Rather, this logic sees humans as independent, rational decision-makers, who find their meaning and identity in systems of management, that now attempt to co-opt the language of conservation and environmental concern. It is a short step within this commensurate worldview to psychological reflection on happiness as personal power derived from simply managing or having more ‘stuff’.

4This modern, mechanistic, utilitarian view of matter as material for human use and benefit arises in part from a dualistic Western philosophical view of mind and matter. Adapted into Jewish, Christian, and Islamic religious perspectives, this dualism associates mind with the soul as a transcendent spiritual entity given sovereignty and absolute control over wild matter. Many traditional values embedded in religions, such as the sacred, the placement of the sacred in particular geographical locations, the spiritual dimension of the human, and care for future generations, are incommensurate with an objectified reality, and are not quantifiable. Thus, they are often ignored as externalities, or overridden by more pragmatic, profit-driven, bottom line considerations.

5Yet, even within the realm of scientific, rational thought, there is not a uniform approach. Resistance to the easy marriage of applied science and instrumental rationality comes from what we might call ‘science-that-sees-the-whole.’ By this we refer to a lineage embedded in the world of empirical, experimental science of valuing wonder, beauty, elegance, and imagination as crucial components of knowing the world. Knowing, within these perspectives, stresses both analysis and synthesis — the reductive act of observation, as well as placement of the focus of study within the context of a larger whole. ‘Science-that-sees-the-whole’ resists the temptation to take the micro, empirical, reductive act as the complete description of a thing, but opens analysis to the history of a large interactive web of life. It helps to illustrate the radical interdependence of life that characterizes all ecosystems.

6From the Enlightenment period in Western Europe some three centuries ago, the human community has increasingly gravitated towards rational, scientific ways of knowing the world. Modern mechanistic worldviews engender value orientations that separate humans from the Earth. Simultaneously, modernity encourages the primacy of human extractive use and dominion over material reality. The Enlightenment legacy emphasizes knowing the world rationally and scientifically, not religiously or ethically. Rather, religion in modernity orients one away from the immanent and towards the transcendent; whereas ethics examines behavior between humans or between humans and the divine. Moreover, in its economic dimensions, modern worldviews rationalize nature. In this sense, the world at large is without intrinsic value, unless it is calibrated in a metric based on its use value for humans.

7This human capacity to imagine and implement a utilitarian-based worldview regarding nature has undermined many insights from the ancient wisdom of the world’s religions by segmenting any meaningful religious values as psychological choices or subjective interests. More insidiously, some religions, allured by the individualistic orientations of market rationalism and short-term benefits of social improvement, seized upon wealth and material accumulation as containing divine approval. Thus, early in the nineteenth century, Max Weber identified the rise of Protestant Christianity in Northern Europe with an ethos of inspirited work and accumulated capital. Interestingly, Weber also articulated a disenchantment from the world as this rational, analytical, profit-driven worldview became dominant as global capitalism.

8The prior enchantments of the old creation stories were burned away in the critical fires of rationality. Wonder, beauty, and imagination as ways of knowing were gradually superseded in a turn from the organic wisdom of traditional worldviews to the analytical reductionism of modernity. A mercantile mindset sought to shift the play and sport of the world in ways that accorded with modern industrial productivity as the epitome of progress.

Ways of Knowing the World

9Certainly, the insights of scientific, analytical, and rational modes of knowing are indispensable for understanding and responding to our contemporary environmental crisis. So also, we will not bring ourselves out of our current impasse without the technologies that brought us into it. Indeed, these technologies are being reshaped in more ecological directions as witnessed in such developments as industrial ecology and green chemistry. But it seems important also to recall that other ways of knowing are manifest in culturally diverse cognitive pathways that treasure emotional intelligence and affective insight. These are evident in the arts — music, painting, literature, poetry, drama — that celebrate human experience in a more than rational mode. Moreover, in their explorations of embodied experience of humans and nature, many aspects of Western culture, such as visual aesthetics, literary arts, narrative poetry, and cinema are far from dormant in modern consciousness.

10What is especially striking in this regard are the versions of empirical observation found among Indigenous, or aboriginal, peoples that have both rational and affective components. This involves knowledge of lands and ocean, animals and fish, plants and trees. These many ways of knowing appear in an amazing variety of human interactions with the natural world that include: the development of traditional herbal knowledge, proto-chemical understandings, healing practices, philosophical reflection in oral-narrative traditions, and agricultural cultivation. These diverse ways of knowing-dialogues are evident in the domestication of various crops such as rice, millet, wheat, corn, and tobacco. Much of modern science was built upon these foundational insights. Such understandings must have come through a wide range of careful observation and attention to seasonal changes and animal interactions. Similar observational knowledge of the migratory patterns of plants, animals, birds, and fish is evident among many native cultures. Almost uniformly, the remaining Indigenous oral narratives describe this trial and error in experimental usage along with inspired reflection on the beauty and profundity of an in-spirited world. One insight is that many modes of Indigenous knowledge often refer to these connections with the world as kin relationships.

11Thus, it is becoming clearer that new modes of integrating traditional environmental knowledge and science are emerging.

  • 1 Susan Kutz and Matilde Tomaselli, ‘Two-Eyed Seeing Supports Wildlife Health’, Science, 364.6446 (20 (...)

Bridging multiple knowledge systems requires drawing on natural and social sciences’ methodologies and constant consideration for the value systems of all knowledge holders, a process that is based on ongoing iteration and feedback. The Mi’kmaq principle of ‘Etuaptmumk’ or ‘two-eyed seeing’ captures the concept of bringing different knowledge systems together to increase our collective bread and depth of understanding: ‘learning to see from one eye with the strengths of indigenous knowledges… and from the other eye with the strengths of western knowledges… and learning to use both these eyes together, for the benefit of all’.1

12Science-that-sees-the-whole is beginning to appreciate these other ways of knowing without giving over its foundational analytical approach. In recent years, science has returned to study Indigenous knowledge not simply as idiosyncratic experiences, but as connected to larger social and ecological phenomena. Increasingly, these connections are understood as creative entanglements of the senses and the cognitive faculties. Over the last century, new ways of understanding reality have moved from the periphery of our knowledge into more common usage that increasingly tip us toward creative engagement with cosmology. For example, ways of seeing reality at the quantum level as simultaneously particle and wave, as multicentered, and as foaming into and out of existence are beginning to challenge creatively our articulation of everyday life. Our mental horizon now embraces the comprehensible and the intuitive in ways that formerly would have been dismissed as contradictory or logically incompatible.

13In addition, there is a growing appreciation for the multiple ‘intelligences’ in the world. This book aims to explore some of those intelligences from plants and animals, to trees and forests. It recognizes both Indigenous ways of knowing and modern ecological ways of knowing. In both cases, organic interconnectivity is acknowledged and affirmed. Those participating in this book bring an appreciation for multiple ways of knowing and multiple intelligences in the world. Their work reflects the careful attempt to ‘see the whole’. Our work collaboratively aims to bring that sensibility toward an embodied ethic for nature.



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1 Susan Kutz and Matilde Tomaselli, ‘Two-Eyed Seeing Supports Wildlife Health’, Science, 364.6446 (2019), 1135–37, at 1136,; inner quote from Shelley K. Denny, Lucia M. Fanning, ‘A Mi’kmaw Perspective on Advancing Salmon Governance in Nova Scotia, Canada: Setting the Stage for Collaborative Co-Existence’, International Indigenous Policy Journal, 7.3 (2016), 1–25, at 16,


Is a Senior Lecturer and Research Scholar teaching in the joint MA program in religion and ecology at Yale University School of Forestry and Environmental Studies and Yale Divinity School. He is co-founder and co-director of the Forum on Religion and Ecology at Yale with his wife, Mary Evelyn Tucker. With Tucker, Grim directed a ten-conference series and book project at Harvard on ‘World Religions and Ecology’. Grim is the author of The Shaman: Patterns of Religious Healing among the Ojibway Indians (1983), and editor of Indigenous Traditions and Ecology: The Interbeing of Cosmology and Community (2001). Grim and Tucker are co-authors of Ecology and Religion (2014), and co-editors of the following volumes: Worldviews and Ecology (1994); Religion and Ecology: Can the Climate Change? (2001); Thomas Berry: Selected Writings on the Earth Community (2014); and Living Cosmology: Christian Responses to Journey of the Universe (2016). With Willis Jenkins, they also edited the Routledge Handbook on Religion and Ecology (2016). Grim is the Co-Executive Producer of the Emmy Award-winning film, Journey of the Universe (2011). He is the President of the American Teilhard Association.

Is co-director with John Grim of the Forum on Religion and Ecology at Yale. Her special area of study is Asian religions. She received her PhD from Columbia University in Japanese Confucianism. Since 1997, she has been a Research Associate at the Reischauer Institute of Japanese Studies at Harvard. Her Confucian publications include: Moral and Spiritual Cultivation in Japanese Neo-Confucianism (1989) and The Philosophy of Qi (2007). With Tu Weiming, she edited two volumes on Confucian Spirituality (2003, 2004). Her concern for the growing environmental crisis, especially in Asia, led her to organize with John Grim a series of ten conferences on World Religions and Ecology at the Center for the Study of World Religions at Harvard (1995–1998). Together they are series editors for the ten volumes from the conferences distributed by Harvard University Press. In this series she co-edited Buddhism and Ecology (1997), Confucianism and Ecology (1998), and Hinduism and Ecology (2000). Tucker and Grim wrote Ecology and Religion (2014) and, with Willis Jenkins, edited the Routledge Handbook on Religion and Ecology (2016). With Brian Thomas Swimme she wrote Journey of the Universe (2011) and, with John Grim, was Executive Producer of the Emmy Award-winning Journey of the Universe (2011) film.


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